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Clark, Ruehl Make Olympic Platform Diving Team

June 22, 1996

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Climbing the stairs to the 10-meter platform for her last dive, Mary Ellen Clark’s only thought was to attack the tower that has alternately scared and thrilled her for 26 years.

If she was going to fail to make a second straight Olympic team, Clark wasn’t going to chicken out trying.

Already in the last eight months she had overcome another case of vertigo, a terrifying and mysterious condition that causes dizziness and could have ended her diving career.

So one last plunge off a platform that is equivalent to a three-story building was much less worrisome.

Trailing 18-year-old leader Becky Ruehl by seven points, Clark pulled off a solid backward 1 1/2 somersault with 2 1/2 twists to win the platform title in the U.S. Olympic diving trials Saturday.

``I just wanted to go after it because if I was going to be tentative, I would be kicking myself for the rest of my life,″ she said.

Hurtling into the water at 31 mph, Clark emerged to see the scoreboard light up with six marks of 9.0 or better, giving her the title with 865.08 points.

Clark, 33, qualified for next month’s Atlanta Games, where she is the defending bronze medalist. She missed most of last year with vertigo.

Ruehl, of Lakeside Park, Ky., finished second to earn the other Olympic berth in her first trials. Ruehl, the current national platform champion yet a relative newcomer to international competition, totaled 857.94 points.

``I didn’t think I was going to be on the team,″ said Ruehl, a freshman at Cincinnati whose coach bought out an entire seating section for her screaming boosters. ``It’s been a fun week. I’ve been having fun more than being nervous.″

Eileen Richetelli of Milford, Conn., the leader through the preliminary and semifinal rounds, botched her fourth dive to drop from first to third, where she finished with 844.71 points. Only the top two finishers qualify for the Olympics.

Clark’s victory wasn’t without suspense, just like in the 1992 trials when she came from behind to earn the second Olympic berth by just five points over the third-place finisher.

``This is a little sweeter because of the personal challenges I had in ’95 and the total comeback,″ she said. ``I’m so psyched for my dad. He gets to watch an Olympic Games.″

Clark’s father, Gene, missed seeing her medal-winning performance at Barcelona when he underwent quadruple bypass surgery prior to the games. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in April and interrupted chemotherapy treatments to travel to Indianapolis for the trials.

Gene Clark saw his daughter miss her third dive, a backward 2 1/2 somersault pike, that dropped Clark from first to third with two dives remaining.

Ruehl kept the pressure on with a nearly flawless backward 1 1/2 somersault with 2 1/2 twists that earned one 10.0 to move her into second, while Richetelli regained first.

On her previous dive, Ruehl’s cheering section went bonkers when she earned three 10s for a reverse with 2 1/2 somersaults that kept her third.

Not to be outdone by the teen-ager, Clark responded with six 10s for the same dive that she had missed in Friday’s preliminary.

``I stood up there and said, `Uh-uh. No way,‴ Clark said about the prospect of messing up two straight days. ``Becky just totally drilling hers was inspirational.″

Then everything changed on the fourth dive of the five-dive final.

Competing ahead of Clark and Richetelli, Ruehl moved into first by seven points on an inward with 2 1/2 somersaults that earned marks of 9.0 or better.

Clark followed with her most difficult dive and pulled off mostly 8.0s or higher to regain second.

That put Richetelli on the spot. Her backward with 3 1/2 somersaults carried a 3.3 degree of difficulty _ the toughest dive attempted in the final _ and a good score could have kept her on the Olympic team.

Instead, she missed badly. The marks of 3.0s and 4.0s pushed her 21 points behind Clark with one dive remaining.

``I knew it was going to come down to that dive,″ said Richetelli, a three-time NCAA platform champion at Stanford. ``I was pretty nervous and didn’t see my spot. I came out of it too late.″

Near tears, Richetelli could barely comprehend she lost an Olympic berth by 13 points.

``I can’t even say,″ she whispered, her tiny voice trailing off.

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